Some Things Never Grow Old: Connecting with Yourself, Part 1: Preparation - Negotiating Transitions

“Preparedness, when properly pursued, is a way of life, not a sudden, spectacular program.”
–Spencer W. Kimball

Change can be uncomfortable, whether planned or unplanned. Some people thrive on change and view transitions as exciting challenges to be met head-on. For others – really, for most – change raises anxiety levels and leads to resistance, turmoil and tension, both internally and across our relationships. In this video you'll hear the stories and voices of people who have lived through these changes and tackled them purposefully.

Transitions from Business Innovation Factory on Vimeo.

But aging is neither planned nor unplanned – it just is.  And aging IS change. Changes to our physical, psychological, economic and social well-being will happen when we age, so how do we negotiate this?  Especially the big changes like retirement, loss of a spouse, sudden illness or injury...these key life milestones catch us off guard.  The answer is: Preparation. We need to make unplanned aging a thing of the past.  

But while the answer may be obvious, the path to preparedness is not always so conspicuous. There are no manuals, no grad programs, no on-the-job training opportunities geared toward helping us negotiate life’s most stressful transitions. There is, however, a lot of experience to pull from.  Fortunately, you are not the first person to get old, to have your children move away, to suddenly be a single retiree with financial burdens beyond your means. There is no greater education than wisdom. I once read a great quote from a young woman whose mother used to always tell her, "Where you are going, I have already been and am on my way back again."

Wisdom can be found through connection with others, in a number of ways:

Storytelling:  Stories are powerful. They give us context, a sense of connection. And since stories are personal to the storyteller, they don’t arrogantly profess to solve the problem for us. Instead, they inspire thought and leave the translation and relevance to us. Even better is telling our own stories. Social scientist Gregory Walton has proven the efficacy of writing reconstructive narratives as a way of reframing an experience away from the perception that "something that happened to me" to a perception of "I am not alone." For example, a book series written by seniors to future seniors would be an educational and entertaining way to create a "manual" through personal storytelling that could serve the same purpose for the aging as What To Expect When You're Expecting has for expectant parents.

Play:  Play makes us laugh and provides a safe environment for experimenting with goals, ideas, and challenges. And when groups play, new relationships are formed, new ideas are generated, and importantly tensions are lifted. Jane McGonigal's ‘Super Better’ game helps people playfully recover from illness while increasing their resilience. I often wonder why the ‘play dates’ I organize for my daughter change to ‘get togethers’ which can often turn into what my grandmother called "organ recitals" where everyone complained about what body part was failing. Let’s have play dates...forever.  

Group Processes:  Borrowing from support group practices, the notion of organizing formal structures that promote collaboration and sharing makes perfect sense. Why don’t we have Transitions Anonymous today? Likely because formal support groups typically form around socially stigmatizing situations (alcoholism, breast cancer, mental illness), according to researchers from The University of Texas at Austin. But growing old is natural; everyone should know how to grow old, right? Wrong. What better time in life to organize support groups than when transitioning from one social situation to another?

Purpose:  Who doesn’t want to feel relevant? Yet aging disrupts our habitual patterns in life and we suddenly find ourselves on a new path with different scenery, people, goals, and challenges. Why do we even call it “retirement” when we finish our paid work? When we finish college, it’s called “commencement.” What would this new phase of life look like if we called it “re-commencement?” Would the same job search resources work for the 65+ age group that work for college grads? We need to rethink these later-life milestones and create opportunities to flourish. Rather than thinking of aging as a series of losses, we could rather use each loss as a trigger for exploring a new experience.  

Preparing for transitions and negotiating the path forward is both an individual and collective effort.  Individually, we can shift our focus, embrace our changes, pull on our natural desire to play, and find our inner courage to face the unknown.  But without the support of entrepreneurs or forward-leaning thinkers in large existing organization, the task at hand is harder. We all — young entrepreneurs, corporate executives, retirees — need to do some upside-down and diagonal thinking to create the conditions where choice and opportunity can exist so we may age gracefully and with purpose.

Calling All Entrepreneurs! We Want Your Ideas for Nurturing the Natural Aging Process!

  • How can we borrow from support group processes to ease the transition process of aging? What would Transitions Anonymous look like?
  • What role can large organizations play in re-commencement? How could an “alumni network” for company retirees work?
  • What digital or analog products and/or services can encourage playful interactions to help us experiment with life stages both individually and in groups?
  • How can senior organizations rethink the value they provide by remaking themselves as less of a service and more of a co-created social system where seniors can learn, create, share, and celebrate their continued growth and development?

If you have ideas to share, contact Leigh Anne Cappello: leigh -at-

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